Wednesday, October 9, 2013

UK: Newspaper Regulation "Will Be Imposed"

After politicians rejected a UK newspaper industry proposal for self-regulation, the government is poised to impose the first state regulation of the press in 300 years.
Lest you think that the industry's proposals were weak or self-serving, their proposal has been described at the toughest regulatory regime in the world, capable of imposing £1 million fines.  The main differences cited in the two proposals was that under the industry proposal, participation by news organizations was voluntary, that there would be someone with news experience on the main oversight panel, and that the government could not block or change regulations.  Officials, in rejecting the industry proposal would make news organization participation mandatory, have the industry fund the regulatory authority, prohibit anyone with news experience from serving on the oversight panel while allowing former MPs to serve, and provide a mechanism for political "involvement" in setting regulations and determining violations.  (Another concern was the overly broad definition of news outlet and the impact on small organizations, nonprofits, and bloggers).

As one might expect, the industry raised concerns about the action, and the fact that industry representatives were not involved in the decision-making process, while critics were.  Press opponents (who were involved in the initial late-night deal-making that resulted in the government's initial proposal) predictably indicated that rejection of news industry concerns was "long overdue." 

And one Labour member of Parliament, Tom Harris, expressed his concern eloquently in an opinion piece published in The Telegraph -
I sympathise with Ed Miliband’s call for “decency” from Fleet Street, especially in the wake of last week’s unedifying row between him and the Daily Mail over his late father. But the state should have no role in forcing its definition of “decency” on a free press. The British press is intrusive, arrogant, vicious, unfair, unbalanced and generally infuriating. What a relief! That is as it should be. Politicians and those in positions of power should be wary of journalists. We should worry about what will be reported about us and our actions. We should shudder on a Friday night when a reporter from a Sunday tabloid calls us at home to ask for “your side of the story”. 
By supporting Parliament’s Royal Charter for press regulation, to be agreed by the Privy Council at the end of this month, my party is turning its back on a core tenet of progressive politics: that a genuinely free press, however infuriating, is an indispensable foundation stone of democracy.
Even if the goal is worthy, the way the UK government has proceeded in this matter doesn't give much indication of a concern for fairness or the social, economic, and political value of a free press.  While there is no constitutional protection of a press free from government influence and control in the U.K. (such as the First Amendment in the U.S.), they are members of the EU and UN, both of which support the role of a free press as a fundamental human right.  Should these be disregarded because of the occasional bad act or embarrassing story?  I'd hope not, but I expect that they will.  It's one reason politicians are generally seen as even less ethical than the press.

Sources -  Regulation will be imposed on press as politicians reject self-regulation, The Telegraph
Labour should not be muzzling free speech with its support of the Royal Charter, The Telegraph

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